The recent public spat between Botswana and the American government is an uncanny replay of what went on behind the scenes during Professor Kenneth Good’s deportation in 2005.
The American government was unhappy with Botswana government’s decision to deport University of Botswana Australian lecturer Professor Good.
WikeLeaks report indicate that the American Embassy in Gaborone had recommended to the parent government to issue a statement that,: “The United States notes with concern the Government of Botswana’s decision to deport Professor Kenneth Good as a prohibited immigrant. This action undermines the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana. The United States notes that the deportation order is pending further judicial review. We urge the Government of Botswana to continue its tradition of respecting freedom of speech as an essential component of a democratic society.”
The issue also cropped up during a private meeting between former American Ambassador Joseph Huggins and then President Festus Mogae and his Vice Lt Gen Ian Khama.
Ambassador Huggins told Botswana leaders that he did not consider Professor Good a threat to Botswana, pointing out that constructive “criticism should be encouraged in a democracy as freedom of speech is one of the major pillars in a democratic state, said the Ambassador. He suggested that if the government of Botswana had evidence that Professor Good was a threat, it should release it to the public to better explain its position.
In a response that bears an uncanny resemblance to the recent press statement issued by Office of the President against the United States of America, WikiLeaks reports that Lt gen Khama, then vice president , “reacted defensively, saying the U,S. and Britain have come up with ways to deal with terrorism that might be eroding democracy. Assuring safety of citizens without eroding democracy is always a challenge. He further hinted that outsiders became interested only when the subjects were white, calling it a “color thing.” He then cited the Mariana Bosch case of a white South African who was hanged for murdering her lover in Botswana. Khama went on to state, “We have deported Africans in the past and heard nothing from the West. We have hanged Africans in the past and heard nothing from the West. Why is that the West is only interested in cases that involve white people?”
Khama further expounded that Kenneth Good had been criticizing the government for years but that his criticism had grown more “insulting.” It was no longer constructive. He said Professor Good had gone “overboard,” writing in papers outside Botswana that portrayed the country in a negative light. Khama had “no regrets” about what had happened to Professor Good, saying he would be “forgotten over a period time.”
In a more recent a public spat between the two countries, Botswana on reacted angrily to concerns raised by the US following the arrest of a Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone. The US Department of State said Mr Mokone’s arrest is “inconsistent with … fundamental freedoms and at odds with Botswana’s strong tradition of democratic governance”.
In a no-holds-barred response, Office of the President spokesman Jeff Ramsay said Botswana’s government had noted with “dismay” the US reaction.
He suggested the US government “might wish to put its own house in order before rushing to hastily comment on the judicial affairs of others”.
He cited last month’s alleged “detention without charge” by police of Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, while he was covering the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager.
“We find it unfortunate … that a foreign government, much less one that professes to be a friend and partner of Botswana, should issue such a statement about an ongoing judicial process in our country,” said Mr Ramsay.